All In the Name of Science
Our boss, Laurie, gave us the script and instructions. She wanted Scott to act in the video, and since I was in the AV club in high school, I was given filming/directing responsibilities.
The instructive video was to be all about Your Body's Automatic Defences. While a voice-over (to be added later) explained everything in terms a 6-year-old could understand, Scott was to demonstrate how you shiver when you get cold, sweat when you get hot, and that sort of thing. When I took the script home the night before filming to read it and prepare, I discovered something wonderful. Defence #4 was "Sneezing."
We did the filming in a smallish empty room at the Centre, with a bluescreen set up against one wall. We started at 1pm, and by 4pm we'd finished everything but Sneezing, which I'd left for last.
I have to admit I spent those three hours in gleeful anticipation. See, I have a somewhat greater than normal appreciation of sneezing. In fact, it's a sexual quirk of mine: other people sneezing makes me hot. This is true in general, and especially true if they happen to be attractive, which Scott is. Like me (and most of the animators) he's an undergrad science student at the local university, working here full time summers and part time during the academic year to cut down his student debt. He's just a year older than me, and he's tall and lanky with longish, curly brown hair and round, wire-rimmed glasses which I think make him look intellectual, yet vulnerable.
"OK, this is the last one," I told Scott. "Sneezing. You start out facing centre, then you detect an allergen. You sniff and look uncomfortable for four seconds, and then you start building up to a sneeze. You need an 18 second build-up, to give time for the voice-over, and then you sneeze, uncovered, facing the camera. Then you sniff, take out a handkerchief, and blow your nose, which has to take 5 seconds. Then, there's a second scene, a simpler one: just a 3-second build-up to a sneeze, then sneeze into the crook of your arm." I swear to God, I wasn't making this up. These were exactly the instructions Marnie gave me. But... then I added my own private twist. "I brought pepper."
"Pepper?" Scott repeated, sounding a bit daunted. He was probably already realizing that those instructions would be quite challenging to follow. "Can't I just fake sneezing like we faked everything else?"
"No, it said in my instructions that it had to be a real sneeze," I lied, my face blankly innocent. "After all, fake sneezes are painfully obvious. And this is science, this is education!" I added passionately. "We've got to do the best we possibly can!"
Scott shrugged and sighed. "OK. But how the hell am I going to manage all that?"
"Don't worry. I'm the director; I come prepared." Out of my big duffle bag of props, I brought a bag of fine-ground white pepper, and a big white cloth handkerchief, as well as a box of tissues.
He stuck the handkerchief in his pocket and stood on the masking-tape 'x' I'd stuck on the floor, while I checked the video camera on its tripod. "Right, so these are your marks," I said. "Zero," I held up a clenched fist, "Camera's rolling. Standing around innocently. One," one finger held up, "detect allergen. Two," two fingers, "sniff and look uncomfortable. Three, build up to sneeze. Four, sneeze. Five, sniff and blow." This being a low-tech production, we were recording sound right along with visuals, so I'd have to give him silent direction as long as the camera was rolling. "I've got the pepper here to make you sneeze."
"OK," Scott said. "Let's go."
I poured some of the pepper out onto a small saucer we'd used as a prop earlier. I put it down just outside of one of the masking-tape lines on the floor that marked the limit of the camera's view.
"Take a pinch of that and sniff it when you're ready," I suggested.
I busied myself adjusting the zoom on the camera. It was one of the new-style digital video cameras, that has a palm-sized digital screen on which you can see the image you're recording, so you can watch the live and recorded scenes simultaneously.
I was really grateful, around then, that I'd been born female, 'cause if I'd been a guy I would have had a really difficult-to-explain hard-on.
Scott took a pinch of pepper between his fingers, then stood on his mark. He sniffed the pepper, and as soon as he did I hit "Record" and signalled "Zero." Scott was already blinking and wrinkling his nose. I quickly signalled "One." I kept an eye on my stopwatch, counting seconds, while drinking in the deliciousness of Scott blinking, sniffing, wrinkling his nose.... I signalled "Two."
"Haaaai-shew!" he sneezed harshly, bending forward slightly at the waist with the force of it, and bringing both hands up to cover his mouth and nose at the last second. His sneeze was just slightly vocal, with only a hint of his marvellously deep voice coming through - it was delicious.
"Cut," I said, stopping the camera.
"Sorry," he said, blinking and sniffling.
"No problem. We can do as many takes as you need," I said generously. "A couple notes. First, you sneezed way too soon. You need an 18-second build-up so they can put the voice-over in later. Second, don't cover your mouth. The script calls for a fully visible sneeze there."
He looked puzzled. "Shouldn't we teach kids to cover their mouths when they sneeze?"
"That's the second part, the second sneeze, where you sneeze into the crook of your elbow. That's supposed to be the right way to do it - so you don't get any germs on your hands."
"Oh," he said, nodding wisely. "I knew that." He flashed me a conspiratorial grin. I snickered. "Hey," he said, "could we start with the second sneeze? It's a lot simpler."
"Sure, good idea. Remember, it's simple: three second build-up, then sneeze into elbow. Mark zero for rolling, mark one for sneeze."
He pinched some more pepper, we took our places, and he sniffed it. I started us rolling. I glanced at the camera's image to check, then watched live as his expression became slack, his lips parting and eyes half-closing. His breath hitched, and I felt like I was vibrating with anticipation... but then he didn't move, for a full 3.5 seconds (by my stopwatch). He just stood frozen, waiting for the sneeze. Then he shook his head. "Damn, I lost it."
I stopped the camera, and in my moment of distraction heard
My head snapped up and I saw Scott with his face obediently buried in the crook of his elbow.
"Damn," he said, and laughed, lowering his arm. I laughed too.
"Hey, for this scene, it's OK if the build-up's too long," I realized. "As long as the last three seconds are good, we can just cut the beginning and use the end."
"What's 'good'?" Scott asked, rubbing his nose endearingly. I handed him a tissue, and he blew his nose.
"Um, visually interesting. Lots of funny facial expressions. Exaggerate everything you're feeling. It has to be real, but you can make everything bigger. If you need to wrinkle your nose, scrunch up your whole face. If you need to take a breath, take a big one. That kind of idea." Remembering of course that we had two goals here: sexual gratification for me, and entertaining education for six-year-olds.
We got set again. This time, after sniffing the pepper, Scott blinked rapidly, rolled his eyes wildly, wrinkled his nose so hard his upper lip curled up and I could see his teeth, then inhaled shakily "aaaaahhh... aaaaahhh...." I might have suspected him of faking, but I could see his nostrils flaring wide each time he inhaled, in the way only an irritated, about-to-sneeze nose can manage.
"Haaaai-cshumph!" Perfectly, he muffled his sneeze in the left elbow of his grey cable-knit sweater. Practically swooning, I stopped the video. "That was great. Perfect. That's a wrap for that bit."
"Great!" Scott said. His eyes were watering. He took another couple tissues, and held them to his nose. "heh-tchoo!" he sneezed quietly, into them, then blew his nose forcefully.
"Bless you," I said, and realized that was the first time I'd said it.
"Thanks." He took his glasses off, wiped his eyes with another tissue, and put himself back together again.
"So, let's try the first sneeze again. Do you remember the instructions?" I asked.
He nodded. "Oh yeah."
This time, he made it through seven seconds of torturous build-up before he exploded "Hi-TSHOO!!" When I told him that he'd have to make it more than twice as long, he groaned.
"It's impossible," he said. "Do you have any idea how long 18 seconds is when it feels like fire-ants are crawling around inside your nose? Anyway, when I have to sneeze, I sneeze. I don't know how to hold it back. And then, if I do hold it back, how do I let it out at the right time?" He sounded frustrated.
"Hmmm," I mused. Then inspiration struck. "Try to think of holding back the sneeze like playing with an orgasm." He laughed with shock, and I kept talking. "You go almost to the edge, then hold yourself back. Tease. Enjoy the sensation that's so intense it seems to hurt. Then finally, at the right time, let go."
"Wow, I'd never thought of comparing a sneeze and an orgasm, before," Scott marvelled. "But it works, doesn't it? They're both muscle convulsions, involuntary reactions to stimuli. And after I sneeze, I feel kind of relaxed and good...."
"Someone told me once that a sneeze is the closest non-sexual equivalent to an orgasm," I offered with a grin.
Scott laughed, and rubbed his nose. (I wondered, lustfully, if it was still irritated.) "Wouldn't it be great if you could orgasm as accidentally as sneezing?" he said. "Just walking down the street, then suddenly.... oh, maybe that wouldn't be such a good thing!"
"Actually," I said, "I've heard of that happening to women. The accidental orgasm. Sitting on a bumpy bus, or a washing machine, or riding a bike..."
"My God," he said, awestruck.
"Anyway, let's get back to work. Ready to try again?"
"OK. Control. Sex. Got it." He gave me a thumbs-up and sniffed some more pepper. I quickly gave him the zero sign, then the one a second later.
He stood there twiddling his thumbs, sniffing the air like a rabbit. I gave him the next signal, and he wrinkled his nose, crossing his eyes, then shaking his head as if to clear it. I have to give him credit; for someone with his nostrils full of pepper, he was doing a great acting job. I signalled that he could start the build-up to the sneeze, and he instantly started heaving giant breaths, raising one index finger to rest under his nose. His nostrils flared wide, and his eyes half-closed, and I heard his shaky "aaaahhh.....eeeeehhh...." After only ten seconds I was sure he couldn't possibly hang on any longer - his voice was actually rising in pitch, and his breaths were getting shorter, "aaah-aah-ah" and my God, he reminded me soooo much of myself on the brink of orgasm....
"echchCHOOO!" he sneezed forcefully towards the camera, just as I'd told him to, but a good six seconds too early.
"That was great but too short-" I started to direct him, but he interrupted me.
"J-just wait," he said, shakily, grabbing a kleenex and bringing it up to his nose, "I-I'm aaah-- aaah-- not done sn-sneezing y-aeeh-eeeh yet...." Despite the desperate little breaths that kept interrupting him through that statement - my God that was adorable - he didn't sneeze yet. He stood there, frozen, with his eyes closed and the kleenex over his mouth and nose. Then suddenly "hiTCHOO! hiTCHOO! haa haaTCHOO! AachOOOO!!"
Completely transfixed, I watched these four quick sneezes, feeling myself get even hotter. I felt like if I moved at all, the seam of my jeans would rub me enough to make me come, and I didn't want that, not then!
He blew his nose. "Whew," he sighed, "That gets worse every time. I hope we don't have to do too many more takes."
Personally, I hoped it would go on all night... but I was an evil, evil woman. "That one was good, but the build-up was still too short for the voice-over," I told him. "Ready to try again?"
"Oh man, give me a minute to rest." He grinned at me. "I tried doing what you said - thinking of the sneeze like an orgasm, trying to control it. I think it was kind of working. I held on longer this time, right? Only know what? God damn it, I'm starting to get hot!"
We both laughed. And naughty me, I snuck a peek at his crotch, and yup, it was looking bigger. Mmm. "Me too," I admitted, feeling myself blush a bit. "I mean, I said it, right? So then I was thinking it, too...." I looked over at him, a bit coy, taking in his reaction.
"Anyway, about this build-up," he said then.
"Yes?" Talking about sneezing with Scott was almost as delicious as actually watching him sneeze. I love my job.
He rubbed at his nose while he talked. "Eighteen seconds is so long. I mean, I was starting to feel really boring, just standing there squinching my face up and gasping. So I thought, maybe I could almost-sneeze a couple times, to make in more interesting? You know, like when you really seriously think you're going to sneeze, you're all like 'Aaaah aaah CH-' and then it just stops?" And as soon as he finished talking, he turned his head to the side and actually sneezed twice, quickly and quietly, "hehTcch, hehTcch. Excuse me. Shit, that pepper's strong."
He'd already thrown away the tissue he'd blown his nose with a moment ago, so I jumped for the kleenex box and grabbed one before he could. Amazed at my own daring, I planted myself right in front of him, and put one hand on his shoulder and with my other hand, held the tissue to his face. With a cat-like grin, I said "Blow properly this time."
He blinked, surprised, but I could see his eyes crinkling into a grin. My manoeuvre had me almost pressed full length against him, front to front; he leaned forward slightly, so that we stood as though we were slow dancing. "Wait," he said, his voice muffled through the tissue, "I need to -"
He didn't finish his sentence, but that was no problem because I knew exactly what he'd been about to say. His poor nose was still irritated (he was having a wonderful reaction to the pepper) and now he was starting another sneeze. He didn't move away from me; instead, he put one hand on my shoulder for support. His eyes went completely unfocussed, and I could feel his warm breath through the thin tissue.
"hiTchah!" It was just a tiny little sneeze, but it thrilled my like no other had in my life, because I was actually holding the kleenex he sneezed into, and besides we were so close I could feel the involvement of his whole body; his hand on my shoulder even tightened at his moment of release. Not only that, I could feel his erection move against my hip bone when he sneezed.
He took the tissue from me and turned away to blow properly. Then he cleared his throat. "Well. Uh. Let's try to wrap that scene."
I don't know how, but he managed it perfectly. Even though I don't think he could see my marks, after the first two, being so caught in the grips of the sneeze, he managed to hit every one perfectly.
His build-up this time was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. It was pure poetry. He started out blinking rapidly and twitching his nose. He rubbed his nose and shook his head. His nose kept twitching and his lips parted slightly. His eyes opened very wide, and he stared up at the ceiling. He laid one finger along his upper lip, under his nose. He started gasping, "aaahh.... aaaahhhh...." He blinked harder; I could see his eyes were watering. His head drew back, his eyes flickered closed, his nostrils flared wide, and he gasped "aaaAA haaaA..." and I was *sure* he was about to lose it and sneeze too early, but then he stopped. His expression smoothed out. Rubbing his nose, he gave a "what happened to the sneeze?" sort of look at the camera. At that point, I was afraid the sneeze had left him. But no - a moment later his expression scrunched up again very suddenly, and he practically yelped "ah! ah! oh!" Desperately, his breath hitched. His eyes closed again, and his chest and shoulders heaved. "Ah....gah!" And then, right at the 18 second mark, he sneezed. It was a wonderful, forceful, tremendous sneeze, and he faced right into the camera.
Then he took out the big white cloth hanky, held it over his face, and made a big, 5-second production of blowing his nose. It was wonderful. I checked the time, and hit "stop" on the camera.
"That was great," I said, my voice a bit husky. "That was perfect. That's a wrap."
He blinked at me over the hanky, but he didn't lower it from his nose. "I sdill deed do sdeeze," he said, his voice stuffy and muffled. I practically swooned. "Hichoo!" he sneezed, gently, into the hanky. He didn't lower it yet. "By dose is sdill tickling. ahhh.... oh God. aahhhCHsshh." He kept the white cloth in front of his face, and blinked at me through watering eyes. "I'b ... ahhha... dot going do .... ohhahhh... sdop sdeezig ... ehchoo! ichOOO!... all day!"
Not going to stop sneezing all day? That sounded like heaven to me. Scott looked miserable, though, hunched over the hanky, sneezing again and again.
"Sneeze it all out," I encouraged him. "You'll be OK when all the irritants are out of your nose."
"haaaaCHOOOsh!" he sneezed again. Then he blew his nose forcefully. Finally, he lowered the hanky. He rubbed his nose with the back of his hand. "Wow," he said. "I think that's it."
"We got the shot," I said. "You did great. We're done now."
We packed up the stuff. I made sure I had charge of the tape - I was *so* making a copy before I turned it over to my boss.
"So, wanna go out for a drink, to recover?" I asked, ever-so-casual. "My treat."
He grinned at me. "Yeah, sure."
And off we went, into the sunset.